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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Lunchbox love notes

Posted: 26 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

Writing to each other helps this family through some rough patches.

MY son and I used to write love letters to each other. I would write a little note which I would put in his lunchbox, and he'd read it while enjoying the lovely gourmet lunch. These notes conveyed my feelings for him. Sometimes, they were reminders. But they always reassured him of my love, as well as my admiration.

In his replies, my son expressed equally well his love for me. Not just love, but gratitude. He felt my presence despite my physical absence.

"I thought of you today, mum, while we were reading a poem in class," he once said.

This habit of writing love letter came about when my son was having problems interacting with his classmates. Neither sporty nor preppy, my son Jonn at one stage in Primary One was sidelined, or he was completely rejected by his classmates.

"I was all alone at lunch and recess, mum," my then eight-year-old son cried tearfully one night before falling asleep.

Then a note of encouragement found its way into Jonn's lunch box. Then the next day, and for the next few months, my words and love did not just kept him company, but they also gave him guidance and encouragement.

Jonn has learnt to communicate with his parents through notes and letters.

Jonn has learnt to communicate with his parents through notes and letters.


Some found this little exercise endearing. Others thought it made my son over-reliant, hence making him a mummy's boy. It didn't.

In fact, all the love letters and attention had helped develop him, shaping the wonderful boy he is.

Jonn is never short of friends now. He is surrounded by many at lunch and recess. When I pick him up at school, his friends from all directions bid him goodbye.

Jonn, to my amusement, nods his head like a gentleman before returning the same courtesy.

"A boy who was short of friends is now having too many," I always tease him.

Jonn is by no means a mummy's boy. He is independent, righteous and caring.

Jonn is my babysitter while I am busy. He takes care of his six-year-old sister like a teenage brother. While correcting his sister's little flaws, which he too used to commit, Jonn is stern and rational.

Emotionally intelligent, Jonn imparts the same qualities onto his sister, always explaining to her how adults need to have their own space. Hence, when mummy is busy, my endearing son steps in to take on the role of my daughter's half parents.

While walking side by side next to each other, Jonn will extend his hands naturally for his sister to slip her fingers into.

That heart-warming sight comes from a love note reminding him to be kind to his sister. If your sister is a pearl, you're the oyster, I wrote. He remembers that note, and lives by it diligently.

The attention I bestowed upon him during those difficult years when he was in Primary One and Two has brought him closer to home than ever.

Friends come, friends go. Family will always stay is our motto.

And if he was asked to choose between playing games at his friend's house on a Saturday afternoon or having lunch with his family in a food court, my son will opt for the latter.

He cherishes the closeness and opportunity to be with his family.

His mum's gentle gaze, his father's sense of humour and his sister's goofiness will always moor him and the house, always warm and neat, is the wharf.

What other ways to greet his happy tenth birthday other than writing him a letter as I did?

So, besides giving him and his friends a blast at a local laser games shop, I wrote him the latest love letter:

Our dearest son Jonn,

Today is your birthday. Let it be an event that marks an epoch in history between us, parents and son. Let it, too, be a trajectory that branches out to something new – you being our partner in life.

Indeed. This day when your age matters as it is now double digits is the day when I call you our partner. You have demonstrated great qualities in the past ten years and have flourished to become the boy that I have always imagined myself raising…..

The tears flowing down his rosy cheeks were as large as pearls.

Those times writing love letters were some of the most memorable parenting times I have, and they pay back in folds.

Meaningful work

Posted: 26 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

Students get lessons in character building on day off from school.

WITH classes cancelled on a recent Wednesday as teachers attended professional development workshops, students welcomed a day off from school.

About 45 showed up anyway.

These at-risk freshmen were transported from their high school to places throughout the community, where they learned a valuable lesson: "Helping people," said 14-year-old Devante White, shoving food into a box at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank in Ohio, the United States.

Devante joined 16 other students at the food pantry. Other students volunteered at a senior center, and still others at Salvation Army.

The students are in Akron's Closing the Achievement Gap programme, which provides academic enrichment experiences and community support for struggling students and their families.

The 225 freshmen in the programme are identified in eighth grade as at risk because of low test scores or behavioural issues. They're selected from four high schools with lower-than-average graduation rates in the city. Programme participants are paired with mentors – employed by the school – to provide enriching experiences for students and to match their families with community resources.

The goal is to curtail dropouts and advance each student to 10th grade. Character-building is part of the process.

"I feel strongly that connecting kids to the community helps build assets," said Carla Sibley, community outreach director for Akron schools and programme coordinator.

This fall, Sibley expanded the programme, now in its fourth year, to include more service learning projects, among them volunteer work at the food bank.

"They lay their hands on the food and it becomes real. This food is going out to a family in need," said Laura Bennett, vice president and chief operating officer at the non-profit agency. "It's meaningful work. It's going to make a difference."

The kids entered the food bank shy and uneasy, said Sunday Atkinson, an Akron schools programme specialist and mentor. Once they started working, Atkinson witnessed a change.

"It's like two different students," Atkinson said as smiling students whirled around her with boxes and food in hand.

Funding issues limit programme enrollment to about 25% of all eligible freshmen. Private donations and a Race to the Top grant, which expires this school year, afford seasonal outdoor learning experiences in the programme at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Sibley touts the programme's positive outcomes as she actively seeks funding to continue the initiative.

An independent assessment conducted by Kent State University's Research and Evaluation Bureau confirmed Sibley's praise. Programme graduates are less likely to be absent from school compared with similarly performing students not in the programme.

When enrolled in outdoor enrichment programming at the national park, students advanced to 10th grade at an even higher rate, with more high school credits and fewer disciplinary infractions than other programme participants. – Akron Beacon Journal/ McClatchy Tribune Information Services.


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